U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE 95/04/19 -- DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Wednesday, April 19, 1995 Briefer: Nicholas Burns LIBYA Report of Libyan Flight from Tripoli to Saudi Arabia ...1 UN Sanctions Committee Vote on Exception to Sanctions ..1,2 --Conditions on Transport of Libyan Pilgrims ...........2,3 IRAQ Detained Americans .....................................3-8 --Polish Authority Access ..............................3,4 --Status of Visa Applications for Wives ................5 --Physical Condition of Detainees ......................6 --Diplomatic Contacts/Appeals ..........................7,8 INDIA U.S.-Indian Relations ..................................8-10 --Treasury Secretary Rubin Visit to Region .............8 Iranian President Rafsanjani Visit to Region ...........9 IRAN U.S. Position on Iran's Nuclear Ambitions/Military Sales ...............................................8-10 MISCELLANEOUS Oklahoma Bombing .......................................10 RUSSIA Chechnya Fighting ......................................11 --Disappearance of Fred Cuny ...........................10-11 Secretary Christopher/FM Kozyrev Mtg. Planned ..........20 NORTH KOREA Readout on Framework Talks in Berlin ...................12 --Effect of South Korean Maneuvers on Talks ............12 Report of U.S. Co. Coordination of LW Reactor Project ..12 BOLIVIA Vote on Decree Announcing State of Siege ...............12-13 MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS Syrian, Israeli Track/Ross Trip to Region/Ambassadorial- Level Talks/Security-Level Talks ....................13 CHINA Secretary Christopher/Chinese FM Qian Qichen Mtg. ......14 --Possible Export of Two Nuclear Reactors to Iran ......15 --Establishment of Working Group .....................15 --Spratly Islands Dispute ..............................15,17-18 --Arms Control Issues/NPT ..............................15-17 Chinese Fishermen Allegedly Held by Filipino Gov't. ....17-18 MEXICO Secretary Christopher Mtg. w/FM in New York ............18-19 --Arms Control Issues/NPT ..............................18 ARMS CONTROL START II Ratification ..................................19-20
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 19, 1995, 1:26 P. M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Good afternoon. I don't have any statements to make, so I'll be glad to go directly to your questions.
Q Do you have anything on the flight that originated from Tripoli today?
MR. BURNS: I've seen the press reports -- the same ones I think that you have seen -- about a flight that may have originated from Tripoli en route to Saudi Arabia, as the press report indicated, for the Hajj. I don't have any specific information on it. We have only seen the report.
Q Can you comment on the legality of it?
MR. BURNS: Excuse me?
Q You can't comment on the legality of it?
MR. BURNS: Well, I do have some information. I don't know if you have heard, but this morning the United Nations Sanctions Committee voted to grant an exception to the Sanctions Regime on Libya and specifically has authorized a limited number of flights on Egyptian aircraft -- Egypt Air -- for the purpose of bringing Libyan pilgrims to Mecca for this year's Hajj.
The United States supported this decision on humanitarian grounds. Our general view is that Libyan pilgrims should not be denied the right to pilgrimage, and should not suffer for the actions of their government.
I would note that the sanctions provide for humanitarian exceptions. As I understand it, this is the first time -- 1995 is the first year in which a member state of the Sanctions Committee and of the U.N. has requested an exception. Egypt requested the exception. I further understand that the government of Egypt has proposed a maximum of 45 flights to carry up to 6,000 Libyan pilgrims from Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya, to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which is the closest major airport to Mecca, and up to 45 return flights will carry the pilgrims back to Libya.
Now in taking this action this morning, again with the consent of the United States, there are some conditions that have been attached to this, and I can go into those, if you would like.
Q The exemption applied to Egyptian or Egypt Air flights?
MR. BURNS: That's right.
Q The first flight that took off this morning, as I understand it, was a Libyan Airways.
MR. BURNS: Let me be very specific about this. The U.N. Sanctions Committee this morning voted to authorize Egypt Air flights to transport Libyan pilgrims from Libya to Saudi Arabia. It did not, specifically did not, authorize Libyan Government airline flights to take place. The ban on Libyan Government air travel still exists.
Now the conditions attached this morning are that Egypt will communicate to the Sanctions Committee at the United Nations the scheduling, the routes, and the aircraft registration information for each of these proposed 45 flights. All flights shall be direct and non- stop between Tripoli and Benghazi and Jeddah. None of the aircraft involved shall be owned by, leased from, or controlled by Libya or any Libyan entity.
Furthermore, neither the government or public authorities of Libya, nor any Libyan shall have any financial benefit from these flights, and all aircraft must be inspected by the United Nations officials to confirm that they are operating exclusively for the humanitarian purposes declared in the exceptions voted upon this morning and in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 748.
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q The first flight landed -- took off and landed within Libya. It did not leave Libya. There is a second flight now that the official news agency of Libya is reporting has taken off. First of all, is that your understanding, and would it be a violation of the U.N. sanctions if a Libyan plane took off and stayed within its own air space?
MR. BURNS: Well, again, Sid, I've only seen -- we have only seen here this morning the press reports that you have seen. We don't have any independent confirmation of the fact that this flight may have taken off and where it had gone. I don't have confirmation that it landed in Libya.
But in general, if Libyan planes attempted to fly internationally, they would be in violation of the U.N. sanctions, and we would expect all the member states concerned to enforce those sanctions by refusing overflight and landing rights for Libyan planes.
Q But they can fly within their own air space.
MR. BURNS: The ban is on international air travel, as I understand it.
Q Supposing they don't adhere to these conditions, what then? Presumably the plane is not going to be shot down. Would it be impounded then, or what?
MR. BURNS: We would ask all governments in the region to enforce the U.N. sanctions. And, as I said, that would include refusing overflight clearances and landing rights. And if, for any reasons, for instance for safety reasons, any Libyan aircraft landed in a foreign country, we would ask the governments involved to deny the maintenance and servicing to those planes, thereby effectively grounding the planes where they would land.
In saying, I'm talking in general terms this morning. I am not corroborating the press reports that a Libyan government aircraft did take off. I don't have any knowledge of this, official knowledge, and I don't know where that aircraft, if it did take off, might have landed.
Q Nick, another subject?
MR. BURNS: Yes, Judd.
Q CNN in Baghdad apparently has learned that the Polish authorities were contacted yesterday by Iraqi officials and told an hour before the scheduled visit to the prison that they would not be given entrance. Apparently the clerk told Newsline that there was no confrontation at the prison gate, which was suggested yesterday from this podium. Do you have any comment?
MR. BURNS: Yes. We have looked into this and had an opportunity to talk to Mr. Krystosik, who is the Polish diplomat who is representing U.S. interests in Baghdad. He expected to have a visit with Mr. Daliberti and Mr. Barloon yesterday. He expected that because he had been told last week by the Iraqi authorities that there would be weekly visits from that date forward. He had a visit mid-last week, and he fully expected to have one yesterday.
When he called to inquire about the timing and the conditions of the visit -- called by telephone.-- he was informed that for technical reasons, whatever that means, he would not be allowed to see them yesterday.
That is what took place. After further contact with Mr. Krystosik, I understand that he made an attempt again this morning with the Iraqi authorities to gain access to the Abu Ghraib Prison where both of these individuals are being held, and he was denied access.
Obviously we are extremely disappointed that the Iraqi Government has reneged on its promise to allow these weekly visits. We are disappointed because that is their legal obligation under the Vienna Convention. It is also their humanitarian obligation, considering the conditions of the incarceration of the two Americans. It is well known, and I think thanks to CNN in many respects, that Mr. Daliberti has been experiencing some heart problems. We are concerned about their health, and we are concerned about their welfare, and we call upon the Iraqi authorities again to release them expeditiously.
Q A follow up -- actually two follow ups. Who called whom yesterday? The Poles called the Iraqis first?
MR. BURNS: Mr. Ryszard Krystosik is the Polish diplomat who is in charge of the U.S. Interests Section in Baghdad. He called the Iraqi authorities, as I guess is his routine, to just confirm the time and the conditions for his visit to the two Americans and when he called them, he was informed that the visit could not take place for technical reasons.
Q Did he call today or --?
MR. BURNS: He called again this morning. We have asked them to make an attempt every day to get in to see the two Americans, and he was again told this morning that that would not be possible -- it would not be possible for him to visit them.
Q Did they give a reason this morning?
MR. BURNS: I asked and I think we simply don't know what the reason was today. One of the problems, of course, that we have in trying to keep track of the activities of our Interests Section in Baghdad is that they report through the Polish Foreign Ministry in Warsaw to our Embassy in Warsaw, and we in Washington receive reports from our Embassy. So it is not a direct line.
Q Do you know if the visas for the wives have actually gone in to the Iraqis?
MR. BURNS: I understand that the applications have been submitted to the Iraqi Government from our Embassy in Amman, Jordan.
Q Today, yesterday?
MR. BURNS: I don't know if it was today or yesterday. I did inquire and was told by our Consular Affairs people that the applications have been submitted. Again, I guess normal Iraqi practice is to indicate that five days might be a normal waiting period for adjudication of visa requests. In this case it's simply impossible for us to predict what the Iraqi response will be.
We obviously believe it's very important for both Mrs. Daliberti and Mrs. Barloon to be allowed access and allowed visits with their husbands and thereby allowed visas. If that does occur, we have asked Mr. Krystosik, the Polish diplomat in Baghdad, to meet them at the Iraqi-Jordanian border. We would take them to the border. He would meet them at the border. He would accompany them to Baghdad. He would, I think, have them stay at the U.S. Interests Section in Baghdad and he would accompany them to all their appointments and give them all necessary assistance while they were there. We very much hope that will take place.
Q Does the U.S. have any recourse, either legal or military, to force the Iraqis to allow these visits?
MR. BURNS: I think that a variety of senior officials of this government have said since the very beginning of this crisis a month ago -- more than a month ago now -- that the United States, of course, always retains all options at our disposal.
We've also made clear that we're going to concentrate on the diplomatic options available to us to try to release them. There is some precedent in this Administration. As you know, back in 1993, Mr. Beatty was held by the Iraqis for eight months. We certainly hope that these two individuals will not be held for that period of time. He was released.
We have pursued diplomatic options through a number of our allies. We're continuing to do that.
Q Just a related question. Do these legal obligations apply in the absence of formal diplomatic relations between two countries?
MR. BURNS: Yes, they do. It's my understanding that -- I can even cite the Vienna Convention. It's Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations -- this is from 1963 -- it sets forth rights relating to notification concerning an access to nationals detained in a foreign country. It's my understanding that the Vienna Convention applies, despite the fact that the United States and Iraq do not now have diplomatic relations.
I would just like to stress the point that there is a legal matter, a legal principle involved, that we've been asserting for the last couple of days. There is also a basic humanitarian impulse that should take effect here. The fact is -- and I think it's clear to all the world -- that these two individuals, through really no fault of their own, found themselves in Iraqi hands. There's no justification to hold them -- to sentence them to eight years in jail -- and no justification to hold them.
Considering what we understand from the Polish authorities and again from CNN -- the visits that the CNN correspondents had -- considering the fact that Mr. Daliberti has experienced some health problems, we would think that on health grounds alone the Iraqis should be under some obligation -- humanitarian obligation -- to release them.
Q You made reference to Daliberti's health problems, but previously there have been references to "their" health problems. Does Barloon have a specific problem that you're aware of?
MR. BURNS: What we understand from the visits of the Polish diplomat is that Mr. Daliberti has experienced chest pains since the beginning of his incarceration; that he has seen several Iraqi cardiologists; that he has received some medical attention. Obviously, we would prefer that he see American cardiologists, be brought home to see his own physicians, and receive proper medical care.
Obviously as well, this is an extremely frustrating and difficult situation for both of them. You can imagine the conditions under which they're being held. It's a small 6x8 foot cell. They have limited access to recreation. They have limited access to their families. Since they've been held, really only one week visits by the Polish diplomats keep them in touch with letters from their families, with news from the outside world.
Obviously, I think you can make for both of them that for emotional and psychological and other reasons, it's very important that they be released immediately.
Q Nick, have the Poles pressed for any explanation or definition of "technical reasons"? What has the response been if there has?
MR. BURNS: As I understand it, they have, and they have not been given a satisfactory or adequate explanation of what that means.
Q Nick, how long -- if the Poles continue to be denied access to the Americans, what diplomatic force can the United States take? I mean, how many times do they have to be told "no" before something else is done or the next step is taken?
MR. BURNS: As I said, for now we're pursuing their release through diplomatic channels. We don't have direct channels ourselves. We have the Polish Government representing us. The French Government has been very helpful to us, and we've made a number of inquiries to the French Government.
You remember when the Secretary met Foreign Minister Juppe in Paris late last month, he made a direct appeal to the Foreign Minister and the French have followed through. We've asked a number of other governments, and I think for now we're going to retain an emphasis on this diplomatic channel.
Q He saw Juppe yesterday. Did he repeat that?
MR. BURNS: He did see Juppe yesterday. The meeting was on other issues. I don't know if he repeated it personally, but I do know that within the last three or four days we have gone back to the French Government to ask them to repeat their intervention with the Iraqi Government.
Q (Inaudible) the demarche? Basically -- the French go in and -- what is it they do? How did they follow --
MR. BURNS: Yes, the French Government --
Q I mean, I know you can't --
MR. BURNS: -- in this case, obviously, contacts the Iraqi Government on our behalf to press, I think, the feeling of the international community, not just the United States, that the charges against these people are groundless and that their incarceration is unjustifiable.
Q Is there any other country that you have asked that you can speak of?
MR. BURNS: I think we've said before that we've gone to both the French Government, the Russian Government and the Polish Government. I also know that the U.N. Secretary General has made a direct appeal to the Iraqi Government on behalf of the two Americans -- and that took place last week at the request of Ambassador Albright.
Q New subject?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q What's your reaction to the way that -- the circumstances around Rubin's visit to India -- the fact that the Iranian leader was so eagerly feted by India? What does that say about U.S. efforts to try to improve relations with India, while India on the other hand is even more eagerly courting relations with Iran?
MR. BURNS: We see no connection between the visit of President Rafsanjani and the visit of Treasury Secretary Rubin. There was no connection. There is no connection. Secretary Rubin's trip was scheduled some time ago.
In general, we have made quite a large effort -- concerted effort over the last year or so to expand our relations with India. Secretary Rubin's visit was the latest in a series of high-level visits from a number of State Department officials and other government officials. We believe that we do have an improved relationship with India. It's an extremely important country to us for a variety of reasons.
But we have no particular concerns about the fact that the two visits were juxtaposed. It's unfortunate, as we said yesterday, that we didn't have prior advance notice, but our relationship with India stands on its own merits. It's an important relationship. We have one of our most senior diplomats there, and we'll continue an emphasis on improving ties with India.
Q So by your own analysis, India has an active nuclear program. Is there any suspicion -- or does the U.S. have any evidence in fact -- that Iran may be shopping India for the same kinds of nuclear technology it has been seeking from China and Russia?
MR. BURNS: I have no indications that the Indian Government has a nuclear program with Iran along the lines of the programs that we've seen emerge between China and Iran and Russia and Iran.
Q How about some other kind of cooperation that's short of Russia -- what you're seeing with Russia and China?
MR. BURNS: I don't have any information on that today for you -- nothing that I've been briefed upon.
Q So there's no concern that this visit, highly publicized visit, may signify some kind of nuclear cooperation between those two countries?
MR. BURNS: We have a general concern. As you know, it's well known about Iran. We believe that Iran -- we've said this many times, especially during the last couple of weeks because so much attention has been focused on it -- we believe that Iran is a rogue state. And despite the fact that Iran is a member -- a signatory to the NPT -- we believe that Iran has nuclear ambitions. That is why we're so concerned about the developing prospective sales of nuclear reactors from both China and Russia to Iran. We've made that a very high priority of our foreign policy to date.
I don't have any specific indication that would lead me to believe that India has such a relationship with Iran. Obviously, they have a relationship -- they have an economic relationship -- and they've just had a high profile state visit. But I have nothing on the nuclear side.
Q Apart from nuclear weapons, Nick, the Indians apparently have signed some conventional weapons agreements with the Iranians and then, I think, Rafsanjani went on to Georgia -- Soviet Georgia and he signed some agreements there for conventional military cooperation. Do the concerns about nuclear equipment also apply to conventional weapons?
MR. BURNS: Obviously, we have a very deep and urgent concern on the nuclear question because of the potential long-range ramifications of Iran becoming a nuclear power in a very important and unstable region of the world.
We in general, as I said, believe that Iran -- because of the nature of its government, because of its actions, its support for terrorism, its destabilizing role in the Middle East peace process and its nuclear ambitions -- is a state that should be isolated. We would call upon all of our friends in the region to isolate Iran.
Q No conventional weapons sales either.
MR. BURNS: At this point we would not be -- we certainly would not favor any kind of sales that would enhance Iran's military capability, let alone its nuclear capability. But I must say that certainly our specific concern in the last couple of weeks has been focused on the nuclear angle.
Q This may be premature, but maybe not given that the first three questions dealt with Libya, Iraq and Iran. But is the U.S. -- is the State Department in any way looking into the possibility that the Oklahoma bombing might be linked to international terrorism?
MR. BURNS: We have been watching the terrible footage of the Oklahoma tragedy, as you have, for the last couple of hours. The White House is in charge of U.S. Government reaction to this. I think Mike McCurry has said something in the last couple of minutes -- or will say something if he hasn't gone on yet -- and I would refer all questions on this to the White House, to the Justice Department and to FEMA.
Q One more specific question. I'll try again. Given that security has been enhanced at the Capitol and apparently at other federal buildings, is there any sort of stepped-up precaution being taken at U.S. posts abroad?
MR. BURNS: We take security very seriously, but I think it's been our practice as well, because we take it seriously, not to discuss our security measures.
Q Do you have anything on the apparent disappearance of Fred Cuny in Chechnya?
MR. BURNS: We are very concerned about the whereabouts of Fred Cuny who is a remarkable American who for the last decade or so has been in all the world's hot spots -- in Somalia and Bosnia and Cechnya and many other places -- and who is an expert -- one of the great experts in this country on delivering humanitarian supplies to people in very harsh conditions.
Fred Cuny was part of a Soros Foundation team that was last heard from on April 9 outside of Grozny. He was with a small team. I think he was the only American on the team. The others were Russians. He was busy trying to set up a hospital in Daghestan nearby to Chechnya and to bring humanitarian supplies to those unfortunate people who have been left homeless because of the Chechen conflict.
Since we were apprised of his disappearance by the Soros Foundation and by the Carnegie endowment, we have undertaken concerted efforts with the Russian Government to try to ascertain his welfare and his whereabouts. And I can specifically tell you that we've been in touch with Ambassador Vorontsov here in Washington. Our Embassy in Moscow has been in touch not only with the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, but with the Defense Ministry, with the Internal Affairs Ministry and other ministries in Moscow. We're making every effort, working with the Russian Government, to find out what may have happened to him. We hope and pray that he's okay.
Q You have no idea, though?
MR. BURNS: We really don't have any idea. There are all sorts of theories, of course, as to what might have happened to him. Obviously, Chechnya is part of Russia, and so therefore we're going to have to rely on the Russian Government to help us find him in a very unstable and very difficult environment, because, as you know, fighting continued today in Bamut near Grozny. The fighting does continue between the Chechens and the Russian military.
Q What are the Russians telling you about his whereabouts?
MR. BURNS: As I understand it, the Russian Government is cooperating with us. They are making their own inquiries, and they have no information about Mr. Cuny's whereabouts.
Q Is anyone from our Embassy going to head in that direction to see if there's anything that we can do on the ground?
MR. BURNS: At this point I believe -- I don't have total information, obviously, on this, but I believe that we are relying upon the Russian Government which, of course, has troops on the ground and civilian officials on the ground in Chechnya to do that work for us.
But I don't want to rule anything out, and I do want to communicate the very great concern that we have about his welfare.
Q Nick, on another subject, the U.S. Mission in Berlin is passing all inquiries about the North Korean talks back to you. Do you have any readout on what happened today?
MR. BURNS: I have a very brief readout. I understand that Dr. Gary Samore and his colleagues from the U.S. delegation held meetings this morning and this afternoon with the North Korean delegation. I believe the meeting this morning was a plenary meeting. The meetings this afternoon were smaller group meetings, such as those that were held last week.
We are just now, as I came out to brief, receiving reporting from the Samore delegation on today's talks, and so I don't have any comment to make about the substance of what occurred today.
Q Will you later on?
MR. BURNS: We'll just have to see what transpires. We'll certainly have to evaluate the information that comes in from our delegation about the substance of the talks.
Q Can you confirm South Korean press reports that the U.S. is proposing that a U.S. company be the project coordinator for the light- water reactor project?
MR. BURNS: I cannot confirm those press reports. I've seen the same ones that you have. I am not willing to go into the substance of these negotiations. We have been unwilling for a number of weeks because of their sensitivity and because of the fact that the negotiations are occurring today. It would be very unwise for us to do that.
Q Have you seen statements from the North Korean official news agency about the maneuvers with South Korea and their effect on the talks today?
MR. BURNS: I saw a press report this morning, some statements from a North Korean Foreign Ministry official.
Q And do you have a comment on that?
MR. BURNS: I really don't. I think that the North Koreans, by now, ought to understand the very important security relationship that the United States has with the Republic of Korea, with South Korea. There's nothing unusual in that.
Q Another subject. Do you have more on the state of siege in Bolivia?
MR. BURNS: I believe I do. We understand that there has been labor unrest in Bolivia for the last two weeks, and there have been negotiations between labor unions -- mainly teachers' unions -- and Bolivian Government. We understand those negotiations are in some difficulty.
We further understand that the Bolivian Government issued an Executive Decree last evening, April 18, which established a state of siege in Bolivia which can last up to 90 days. We understand that this decree, announcing the state of siege, must be approved by the Bolivian Congress which was expected to have been voted on today.
Q Does this concern you?
MR. BURNS: It certainly concerns us. Bolivia is a country of great interest and importance to us. We would hope very much that the government and the unions might find a peaceful way to resolve their problems. We're obviously watching the situation closely.
At this time we have no indication that the situation poses a threat to American citizens in Bolivia.
Q And about human rights in a state of siege?
MR. BURNS: We have close ties with the Government of Bolivia. As I said, we're watching the situation closely. We're in frequent contact with our Embassy. We certainly would like to see the results of the Congress voting today.
Q On another subject -- last week you said the Israeli and Syrian Ambassadorial talks would resume, I think you said this week. Have they?
MR. BURNS: Let me just make a correction, if I could. I don't believe I said they'd resume this week. But let me just retrace the steps so there is clarity on this issue. I know there were a couple of articles written about this yesterday.
As you remember, during his last trip to the region, Secretary Christopher said that he felt that we were going in the right direction on the Syrian-Israeli track, and that we had made progress; that we certainly assumed -- and this, of course, pertains to the aftermath of Dennis Ross' latest trip to the region -- that the Ambassadorial-level talks would continue in Washington.
At the same time, it's been a priority of ours, of late, to try to arrange security-level talks that would include some military officials from both the Syrian and Israeli Governments. We have not yet reached an agreement that would permit those talks to be initiated, but we have every expectation that talks in general will continue, and that they will do so at the Ambassadorial level.
Q Nick, what the Secretary said, correct me if I'm wrong, to my understanding was that President -- and the transcript will bear it out from that news conference in Damascus -- that President Assad had agreed to a several step process beginning with the Ambassador-level talks which took place, and then there was the pause, and then the Ambassadors to come back and the security officials would join in. You know, there was no talk of negotiating that down the road.
Now you're saying that apparently there's been some change in the agreement or timetable or the schedule. I don't understand. Perhaps you could --
MR. BURNS: I'd be glad to clarify it, yes. The Secretary in his remarks in Damascus and elsewhere in the Middle East and certainly those of us who also speak out publicly have never attached dates to any one of these steps. And so the Secretary and others have said that the Ambassadorial-level talks would resume. We have never said when.
We are certainly working to prepare the ground for security-level talks. It's obviously important that the ground be adequately prepared so that those talks can not only resume but be successful, and that is the focus of our negotiations right now.
Q Do you know where the Syrian Ambassador is now?
MR. BURNS: I don't know the whereabouts of the Syrian Ambassador.
Q Wasn't he supposed to be here at the beginning of this week to start the Ambassador talks?
MR. BURNS: Again, we had never -- and contrary -- I'm sorry if there was some misunderstanding from last week -- we had never attached dates to these talks. I would just note that Ambassador Ross, who is the key person below the Secretary in the Department on these talks, is not in Washington this week, and I don't know the whereabouts of the Syrian Ambassador. So I can't comment on -- I can't really give you much more, but certainly we were never under the impression the talks would take place this week, because our principal we knew was not going to be here this week.
Q Where is he? Dennis.
MR. BURNS: Dennis (Ross) is on a long deserved, well deserved, vacation, and he'll be returning to Washington shortly.
Q If I could change over to China.
Q I have one question --
MR. BURNS: Let's follow up on the Middle East, then I'll be glad to let you.
Q You keep talking in the past tense. The Syrian and Israeli Ambassadors have met since the Mideast, right?
MR. BURNS: Yes, they have. Following the Secretary's trip to the region in March, in mid-March, there were Ambassadorial-level talks here in Washington held under U.S. auspices between the Israeli and Syrian Ambassadors. It's those talks, as I said, that we have every reason to think will continue in the future.
We are concentrating now on the next step that Sid and others have referred to, and that is -- and the Secretary referred to in March -- and that is we would very much would like also to initiate or resume, if you will, from last December's security-level talks. And that was one of the focuses of Dennis' trip to the region that concluded last week.
Q China. Okay. Nick, you were present in New York when Secretary Christopher met the Prime Minister -- or the Foreign Minister of China, Mr. Qian?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q And it appeared to us that we were turned down pretty much cold on our request that China not aid Iran in their nuclear ambitions. But I understand there was some discussion about discussing it further. That being topic number one, what can you do to edify us on that whole meeting, generally speaking, on the nuclear issue?
And, secondly, the Chinese are threatening militarily to take action in the Spratlys against the Philippines as a face-saving thing with their fishermen held captive. Did you get to talk -- or did Warren Christopher get to talk to the Chinese about sending -- or about their - - at least threats to send their Marines, naval and air into that area?
MR. BURNS: First of all, let me just give you a general sense of how that meeting went. The Secretary met for two hours with Foreign Minister Qian on Monday -- an hour of plenary and an hour over lunch. The Secretary feels it was one of the most productive meetings that he has had with the Chinese Foreign Minister. The meeting was very broad. It covered all the major issues on the U.S.-Chinese agenda, including two of the issues to which you referred, and let me just address those two issues.
First, the Secretary made quite clear to the Chinese Foreign Minister our deep concern over the prospect that China might export two nuclear reactors to Iran. Based on that discussion, the Secretary and Foreign Minister Qian agreed to establish a working group similar to the one that we have established with the Russian Government. This would provide a forum for us to give them more detailed information on our understanding of Iran's nuclear weapons development program -- nuclear program.
The U.S. Government had also handed over to the Chinese Government, several days before Monday's meeting, some written information on our understanding of Iran's intentions. I don't think it's correct to say that somehow there was an absolute, final, definitive statement made by the Chinese Government. That's certainly not the understanding that we have, because we're going to make it a priority for us, with China as with Russia, to try to convince both governments that it is extremely unwise to engage in nuclear cooperation with Iran.
The President spoke to this last evening. The Secretary spoke to this during his two days in New York, and this remains a high priority for us.
On the issue of the Spratly Islands, the Secretary did raise this issue. He did not raise the specific report about Filipino and Chinese fishermen that you referred to, but he did raise the Spratly Islands. It's been a concern to us. I think you know our position. We do not assert a legal opinion on the status of the Spratly's, but we have been in touch and are continuously in touch with each of the six claimants. This is to assert our view that any conflicts over the Spratlys ought to be discussed peacefully, free from the threat of force or the use of force. The Secretary made that view known directly to Foreign Minister Qian on Monday.
Q What was his reaction?
MR. BURNS: I believe the reaction was a very general reaction. It was that they understood our views, and that they, too, the Chinese Government, wanted to have peaceful discussions with its neighbors about the Spratlys.
Q First on China. Were you -- how upset was the United States at China's position on the NPT, as articulated by Qian in his speech yesterday?
MR. BURNS: The NPT and other arms issues took up almost the first hour of the Secretary's meeting with Foreign Minister Qian on Monday. The NPT was most appropriate because they met on the margins of the NPT conference.
At that time, the Secretary was able to give the Foreign Minister a fairly detailed view of the U.S. position, which is that we're for indefinite and unconditional extension of the treaty, a well known position.
Foreign Minister Qian listened and did not give the Secretary a sense of China's detailed position. After listening to the Foreign Minister's speech at the U.N. yesterday, we remain resolved to work with China during the review process over the next three weeks, so that by the end of the NPT conference on May 8, 9, 10 or 11 -- whatever the day is -- when the vote occurs, China will vote for an indefinite and unconditional extension. That is our hope.
You can obviously look at the Foreign Minister's speech yesterday, and you can say either that they are for an indefinite extension or they're for a 25-year review process, because both elements were included in the speech.
You know the Secretary met with representatives of 30 countries in New York over the last two days, not just with the Chinese on this. I think it's fair to say that most of the countries with which the Secretary met, most of his interlocutors expressed positive support for extension.
The only question comes down as to what type of extension, and most countries are holding their fire, not really asserting what their view is until the end of the review process. That was also the position of the Mexican Foreign Minister. The Secretary had an exceedingly good and positive meeting with the Mexican Foreign Minister. We found the Minister to be open-minded. He was very interested in picking up on some of the ideas that the Secretary expressed in the Secretary's welcoming remarks on Monday, particularly building up the capabilities of the IAEA and talking about a fissile material cutoff. He said that Mexico was encouraged by this.
So we remain optimistic that there is going to be a strong, positive majority vote for an unconditional and indefinite extension by the second week of May.
Q But wouldn't it really a step in your position considerably if China and Mexico had both come out unambiguously in favor of --
MR. BURNS: There's no question. It would be a lot easier if 178 countries would speak today in support of the U.S. position. Since that is not the case, we're going to continue our efforts.
I will say, though, we remain optimistic. I don't want to get into the vote counting, and that changes day by day. Especially since we have countries being added to the NPT roster over the past week. We remain optimistic. I think it's good that a number of countries, including Mexico and China, have said that they want to use the review conference as a way to have good discussions with us.
We're very much open to those, and we're confident about where this will come out in the end.
Q Nick, can I follow up on China. Is the U.S. willing to play a mediator's role in the dispute in the South China sea?
MR. BURNS: We have not sought that status, the status of a mediator. I suppose you're referring to the Spratlys' dispute. We are in touch with the six claimants. We have regular conversations. We have interests here. Our interests are in freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
We also have a particular interest and in one case a security relationship with some of the claimants. So we have a very strong interest that no country or no claimant resort to the threat of force or the use of force, and we have counseled all the claimants along those lines. We have a very strong interest that this be handled peacefully. The United States does have interests in freedom of navigation.
Q Are you helping the Chinese to persuade the Philippines to release the 62 Chinese fishermen being held hostage?
MR. BURNS: I have no comment. I have seen the same reports that you have. I don't have a specific comment on the issue of the fishermen that are being held allegedly by the Filipino Government? I will say that we have had very good talks with the Filipino Government on this issue, and I'm sure we'll continue to have talks with them on this issue of the Spratlys in general, but not the specific issue, I don't believe, of the 62 fishermen.
Q Still on China?
MR. BURNS: Sure.
Q I wanted to ask on security, that's with the Philippines, is that?
MR. BURNS: Yes, certainly I'm referring to our security, our relationship with the Philippines.
Q I'm just a little cloudy on that. What is that?
MR. BURNS: Well, we have a defense and security relationship by treaty with the Philippines, and have had that for some time.
Q So if they were attacked, you would be obligated to come to their --?
MR. BURNS: I don't want to -- I certainly don't want to juxtapose that hypothetical question with the previous hypothetical question. All I can say is, I think our security commitment in relationship to the Philippines is well known. It is long-lasting. We have an obvious interest in the Philippines. Let's separate that, if I can, from the Spratlys issue. I have enunciated in some detail our Spratlys position.
Q But -- well, go ahead, Judd.
Q To go back to disarmament, to the question of ratification of the treaty. The objection of nations like Mexico is the unconditional, as I understand it, the question of the unconditional extension, because they feel that the nuclear powers haven't done enough on disarmament, haven't lived up to the pledges in the original treaty.
Is there any sense that the U.S. might try to sweeten the pot on this?
MR. BURNS: The United States has a very clear view. We think that this treaty is the foundation for arms control in the future, and that it is so important to our national security and global stability that it ought to be extended unconditionally and indefinitely.
Secretary Christopher put that view before the NPT conference on Monday. The Vice President has made a very important speech this morning that enunciates that view in greater detail.
I must say we have an open -- this is an open process, and we look forward to good discussions with all countries involved. But we want to end up at unconditional and indefinite extension. That is where we want to be. And in a meeting with the Foreign Minister of Mexico, we were heartened that he is open-minded about our concerns, and he was picking up on some of the points in the Secretary's remarks on Monday.
Q Did he press the Secretary on nuclear disarmament?
MR. BURNS: He did not make that point, but one point that we are trying to make to all the participants in the NPT conference is that the United States, and particularly the Soviet Union and now Russia, have made very dramatic reductions in the nuclear arsenals of the two largest nuclear powers over the last couple of years.
As you know, we were able to bring START I into force last autumn. The United States Senate is poised, we hope, to ratify the START II treaty. We certainly hope the Russian Duma will take that action. And we are looking beyond the START II treaty in the future for further reductions, and that remains, I think, and on a salable fact, that ought to give some solace to the non-nuclear countries.
Q Nick, despite what you may hope about START II, everything that U.S. officials have said, including what intelligence officials have said, suggest that you don't expect quick action, and possibly no action, by this Russian Duma on START II. And even Senate action, which was supposed to be expeditious, now seems to be delayed a few months.
So, you know, to sort of point to START II as an example of quick action, and you didn't mention this, but certainly the two Presidents at their last summit indicated that they wanted to talk about follow-on negotiations, and those don't seem to be able to go any place either.
MR. BURNS: Well, I would just encourage you to look again at the framework agreement that START II talks about. When implemented at the beginning of the next century, it would reduce the number of nuclear warheads on both sides to roughly 6,500. That is a dramatic reduction from where the United States and the Soviet Union were just a few years ago.
Now, I think we have great confidence that the U.S. Senate is looking at the START II treaty seriously, and we hope very much that the U.S. Senate will ratify that treaty.
I don't expect that the Russian Duma will take action on ratification of START II prior to President Clinton's visit to Moscow on May 9th to llth. But we have every reason to hope and expect that the Russian Duma will take action thereafter.
It is an exceedingly important foundation for the relationship between the United States and Russia in the future.
Q Anything on the Christopher/Kozyrev meeting before the summit?
MR. BURNS: I regret that I do not have any date to give you. The Secretary, of course, has said publicly that he wants to have a meeting with Foreign Minister Kozyrev before the summit. We fully expect that meeting to take place, but I'm sorry that I don't have a date to give you today.
Q Is early next week still possible?
MR. BURNS: Well, I'm not quite sure. I don't know the details of Minister Kozyrev's travel plans to the United States. I think he is expected to be in New York for the NPT conference.
Q He is supposed to be at the NPT on Monday.
MR. BURNS: So we are hoping that we will be able to arrange a meeting, and I hope that I will have something to give you shortly on that.
Q Thank you.
MR. BURNS: Thank you.
(The briefing concluded at 2:l3 p.m.)
(###)To the top of this page